Courage to be Me



As I trudge through life with cancer I am often told that I am courageous. I shrug and decline the nomination.

Soldiers forced to face an enemy, fighting for freedom, facing death. That is courage. They are not deterred by pain or danger. They are far from home and family. They are brave.

I can crawl into my bed and stay there all day on one of those days. Is that bravery?

Pain was my father’s company when he counted his pills, lining them up and checking how long it was before he could take the next set.

“Look at the plane landing,” he said that Christmas, the last month of his life when he was no longer counting pills. The field outside the country hospital was bare, without runways or airplanes. Morphine exchanged pain for friendly phantoms. We went for ice cream in the hospital cafeteria. Santa handed out candy and razors. Was he real?

I have not yet faced pain. And when I do, I will not fight. I will allow narcotics to lull me into a stupor where I accept comfort and hallucinations.

To be prepared, I asked the doctor last week about pain relief. “Just so I’m not in agony some night,” I asked. We talked about the limitations of Tylenol and then she wrote the script for Oxycodone*, a narcotic as popular at the cancer agency as it is on Main and Hastings.

When I exclaimed about 50 pills (50 pills!) she explained that it was a low dose tablet and I might have to take 10 some day. Ten? How much pain is in store for me? I am afraid.

I fear pain and the loss of my independence as well as my bodily fluids. I fear the pity in your eyes — and I have seen it.

I flinch at the thought of leaving my family to fend for themselves. I am afraid of leaving this life before I grow old without my gold senior’s card, my pension and half-price movies.   I am afraid of leaving my children without seeing them mature into the tremendous adults I see glimpses of them becoming. I am scared of leaving this earth without a sighting of grandchildren.

Perhaps you saw me as I sat in the lounge chair this afternoon, the cherry-red Kool Aid-like weed killer** pouring into my veins. Did I look bold? I submit to chemo for the fourth time in four years, iPad on my lap, chatty with the nurse, cocky with fellow patients. Am I heroic?

No, I am afraid for my life. As my numbers climb and the report of my CT scan extends to a second page, I look for words of hope: stable, unremarkable, resolved, unchanged, decreased in size, visually improved, within limits.

I try to balance them with the scary words: more, increased, several new, multiple, metastases, suspicious.

Tomorrow is another day. I will think of the cherry-red drug inside me, searching out and poisoning the demon tumours. I’ll inhale the good words of my friends and think happy thoughts. I will be brave to face another day.

*Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from poppy-derived thebaine. It is a narcotic analgesic generally indicated for relief of moderate to severe pain. It was developed in 1916 in Germany as one of several new semi-synthetic opioids in an attempt to improve on the existing opioids. (Wikipedia)

**Caelyx or Doxil: Doxorubicin (INN, AAN, BAN, USAN; trade name Adriamycin; pegylated liposomal form trade name Doxil; nonpegylated liposomal form trade name Myocet), also known as hydroxydaunorubicin and hydroxydaunomycin, is a drug used in cancer chemotherapy and derived by chemical semisynthesis from a bacterial species. It is an anthracycline antibiotic (note: in this context, this does not mean it is used to treat bacterial infections) closely related to the natural product daunomycinand like all anthracyclines, it works by intercalating DNA, with the most serious adverse effect being life-threatening heart damage. It is commonly used in the treatment of a wide range of cancers, including hematological malignancies (blood cancers, like leukaemia and lymphoma), many types of carcinoma (solid tumours) and soft tissue sarcomas. It is often used in combination chemotherapy as a component of various chemotherapy regimens.(Wikipedia)

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12 Responses to Courage to be Me

  1. Thank you for saying this so well. I hope deeply and cravenly that you are not entering any end zone. May we both trudge forward, stabilizing new growth even as our cancer gets louder.
    with love,
    Marcy Westerling

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pam says:

    Hope that cherry red is turning everything inside a healing pink. I am sending pink healing vibes to you.

    You write so well on your fears and I share them, though I do not have the same experience or sense of timing you express. My mother died 25 years ago now, before she could see her grandchildren and in barely enough time to use her seniors card or collect any pension, as you express. Over the years, while she has not been here physically to share my life and that of her grandchildren, I have been blown away by how much she has been “in” it every day. I can still hear her voice and see her delight in our children and feel her presence as we walk ( and sometimes run) through life . Though it would be lovely to ask her the odd question and get a “real time” response, I always seem to know her answer(s).

    You will be part, Rochelle, of all those lives you touch, far far into the future, guiding and inspiring as you do this day. For now, think pink and feel supported in this journey knowing that this life, your life, is real, is valuable, and is treasured. Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Whiting says:

    You have always been remarkable….with or without the cancer. You were born remarkable…if that makes you appear to be brave, so be it.

    Let’s keep on laughing together, Missy…..see you soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris Mann says:

    Love your thoughts, reflections, and musings. Choose whichever words you like to describe yourself. I see you as awesome. Human – yes, human too. And remarkably awesome in your human-ness. Sending warmest thoughts on this rainy day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. katherinembc says:

    Hi Rochelle, today I happened to share a drupa 2004 photo from the castle where Creo hosted a dinner. Mark Michaelson and Gayle N-K commented and shared the news of your diagnosis. I was sorry to heat this. I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2009. To date I have a small volume of bone-only mets and have been fortunate that my antihormonal tx has held. I am a board member with and our group works with SHARE based in NYC, a patient advocate group for ovarian and breast cancer patients.
    Your blog definitely resonates with me; thank you for writing it.
    I just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you and sending you good wishes.


  6. deb says:

    It’s been a long while since I’ve visited even my own blog, but I have thought of you often. And, once again, you have so eloquently articulated the journey, both those things specific to yours and the common threads — the fears, thoughts about the comments of others, and the persistent thoughts about what comes next and the what ifs. And, as far as the idea of bravery goes, I think we can only base it on our own lives at a given moment. I would argue that living your life as you have, to the fullest extent possible, is brave… as is speaking truthfully and openly (and powerfully) about the peaks and valleys, fear. and what lies ahead.

    Thank you for putting this out there…and keep being a “cocky” patient!


  7. Jacky says:

    Rochelle, thank you for writing this blog. It is hard to know how to deal with these things and you are very inspiring. I saw you at Shirley’s celebration of life and you looked so strong and well. Maybe I seemed too cheerful because I was seeing many survivors that I haven’t seen for a long time, but the sadness of Shirley being gone is still lingering with me. I have no answers, this is territory I have been dancing around for many years. I have almost died a few times, and I am not sure if those were good practice runs or not.
    I am still hopeful for you and all those other ovca ladies.


  8. Mary Louise Doherty says:

    As always Rochelle, you say it with such grace.


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